CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1992

Waqar Younis

By taking 113 wickets in 582 overs for Surrey in 1991, at a mere 14.65 apiece, and by carrying on his shoulders an otherwise moderate county attack, WAQAR YOUNIS announced himself as one of the finest contemporary bowlers and hinted that in time he may achieve the greatness which, it seems, has already been thrust upon him; with which, perhaps, he was born. In just eleven Tests for Pakistan before the last summer he had taken 55 wickets, capturing five wickets in an innings five times. Moreover, he had provoked Martin Crowe, captain of New Zealand, into saying that he had never faced pace and swing bowling of such quality. What is more, he made him attach a grille to his helmet for the first time. Not even the West Indian fast bowlers had been able to do that. And this on Pakistani pitches, under a gruelling sun.

An astonishing number of Waqar's wickets have been clean bowled or have come from leg-before decisions, for his strength lies in a deadly combination of explosive pace and late swing, with which he has regularly been able to shatter the stumps or bruise the toes of apparently well-established batsmen. Waqar's sudden dismissal of Graeme Hick at Worcester last summer with one of his specials, an in-swinging yorker, was particularly memorable for Hick, just 5 runs away from 150, was well and truly set fair. No modern bowler can have relied on the pitch less for help, and few have been as capable of changing the course of a game in a handful of overs. He took his wickets in 1991 despite generally slow pitches at The Oval, and despite the fact that county batsmen had been alerted to his most potent deliveries after encountering him in 1990, his first season. Surrey have long since been grateful for Ian Greig's haste in signing Waqar after a solitary net and a fulsome recommendation from Imran Khan.

Bounding in on a fast, long run, reminiscent of Malcolm Marshall in his pomp, Waqar is an immensely physical bowler. There is about him the aggression of an impassioned warrior. At delivery he jumps high, and pulling his arm through rather in the manner of Andy Roberts, he hurls himself at the batsman, often finishing his follow-through just yards from his enemy and still breathing fire. However, Waqar is by temperament more docile than his Antiguan predecessor, besides which he is young yet and unversed in the subtleties of psychological warfare. Apart from pace and swing, his greatest assets are his stamina and a flexibility of body which allows him to bowl his fastest from the first delivery of every spell, no mater what the time of day or how many overs he has already bowled.

In his early overs he concentrates on an out-swinger delivered to a full length and interspersed only occasionally with bumpers, a weapon used solely as a reminder to batsmen not to plunge too glibly forward. Because he pitches to such a full length and bowls to an unrelentingly attacking field, Waqar can in his full spell be expensive, for he invites batsmen to drive, wanting wickets not maidens. Nor is his bowling yet mechanical. Rather it is raw, though never vulgar, and he searches constantly for the extremity of what he can do. Accordingly, he is sometimes inaccurate.

If wickets do not fall in this first spell, and occasionally they do not, his captain will rest him. But if batsmen do capitulate, Waqar will want to carry on, for he is strong and willing, and inclined to the fervour of a prep school bowler who regards giving lesser fry a chance as an indication of weakness. Conservation of energy is not for him, and nor is he reluctant to bowl to great batsmen; quite the contrary in both cases. But his later spells can be just as effective; more so even, for he finds control easier with the old ball and swings it even more, much to the consternation of Occidental batsmen, who whisper about Oriental tricks. In Pakistan, it is rumoured, bowlers have been taught to interfere with the ball by roughing up one side with bottle tops and the like, a tactic which produces prodigious swing confusingly against the shine.

For a time Waqar's ability to bowl searing in-swingers with a decrepit ball was thought to be due to this ruse. Umpires were on their guard in 1991 and ball checks were a regular occurrence at The Oval and elsewhere. Notwithstanding these, Waqar ran amok once more, silencing those critics and proving that he relied on such dubious tactics less, not more, than anybody else.

Beyond doubt Waqar is an outstanding bowler, probably the finest to emerge from Pakistan since Fazal Mahmood. And yet his emergence owed something to chance, for though he was born in Burewala in the Vehari area of the Punjab, breeding ground of so many courageous fighters, on November 16, 1971, he was raised in Sharjah, where his father was a contract worker. Returning to Pakistan in his adolescence, Waqar played in obscurity until, in 1988, he was noticed by Imran Khan while bowling in a televised local knockout game. As fate would have it, the Pakistan captain was convalescing in his bed in Lahore and had turned on his television set to while away a few hours. Watching this vibrant if erratic pace bowler and immediately detecting talent, Imran saw in him the means of meeting Pakistan's need for a fast bowler to support Wasim Akram. He took the seventeen-year-old under his wing, and played him in Sharjah and in the Nehru Cup in 1989-90 before giving him his Test début against India. He also included him in the team for Australia, where his surging pace made an impression.

Imran refined Waqar's run and action, taught him the fundamentals of swing, and so unleashed on the cricket world a bowler of exuberance and danger. A buzz spreads around the ground as Waqar removes his sweater, and a silence descends as he begins his charges to the crease. This is a bowler of brilliance and élan, a bowler as entertaining in his way as any batsman, as enthralling as any spinner, a bowler who could become, as Imran predicted, the greatest of them all.

© John Wisden & Co